Machine Gun Kelly's ACL set was a middle finger-thrustin', pill bottle-poppin', pop-punk party
"I will be serenading you for the next 'until I decide to get off the stage' hours," Machine Gun Kelly said right before he lit up a cigarette and continued one of the most high-octane, high-attitude and (we'll say it) high-concept Austin City Limits Music Festival sets I can remember.
The peanut gallery loves to pick on the singer-rapper-but mostly singer, with charges of inauthenticity and immature posturing, especially since his stylistic pivot from hip-hop enfant terrible toward Warped Tour homage, with the album "Tickets to My Downfall."
But have you heard of rock & roll? Keep your pearl-clutching about authenticity in a capitalistic music industry, man. Machine Gun Kelly is pop-punk pop art.
You could tell from the 4 p.m. set's opening salvo, when My Chemical Romance's emo opus "Welcome to the Black Parade" played in full. You could absolutely pick up on Colson Baker's knowledge of the playground rules, every time he jammed an index finger at his temple and yelled, nasal passages fully engaged, the words "out of my head." And brothers and sisters of the Holy Hot Topic Order, when your man launches into a cover of Paramore's forbidden revenge anthem "Misery Business," it's a ball game.
(Interestingly, Paramore heads know the band doesn't play the song live much anymore, with frontwoman Hayley Williams calling out the misogynistic high school taunts of a song she wrote as a teenager.)
A giant pink pill bottle rolled to the front of the Honda Stage, and Baker emerged from the top on a lift.
The title track from "Tickets to My Downfall" brought the kind of pop-punk chords that cause a Pavlovian response in some of us. (Hello.)
He implored the crowd to "(expletive) (expletive) up." (Sometimes it's hard to write these reviews for a family newspaper.)
Long, lanky, lethargically lively — I'm so sorry to tell the haters, but the man is a rock star. (Have you ever tried to gleefully soak up the energy of a crowd while also trying to act like you don't necessarily want to be there? It's an art.)
Driving, infectious songs like "Kiss Kiss" and "Drunk Face" shot current through the circuit of sweaty — and gotta say it, maskless — young crowd. They all waited so long for live music, and then ACL Fest's Friday gate time was delayed three hours, so there was even more waiting. Baker hopped on pink shoes, made quick work of a slouchy cardigan sweater lost to the Austin heat. Can someone look like a bratty nephew and no-good uncle all at once?
Baker scaled a towering light rig, singing "(Expletive) You, Goodbye" from the top. His white tank top became a ghost of its former self, through which you could see all of his many, many tattoos. "MGK" across his back, "OUCH" across his armpit, "Est. 1990" across his chest. He took a perfunctory pull from a liquor bottle. It's theater, baby. You wouldn't get snooty about Lady Macbeth rubbing the spot out of her hands, would you?
He powered through favorites like "Jawbreaker" and "Forget Me Too," angsting about any imaginary lover probably sick of his bull. (Real girlfriend Megan Fox didn't make an appearance, but the crowd did chant her name.)
He confessed that he dreams of a sunset headliner set. Baker asked if ACL had love for Machine Gun Kelly. ACL confirmed.
"Bold move," he replied. "You know the internet will tell you otherwise." Baker warned us against the cool people. His set was for people who know what they love.
You think it's not rock & roll to posture a little bit? Machine Gun Kelly, and a euphoric crush of music fans, had a certain hand gesture to offer in response.